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Council Tables Supplemental Tax Bill

The City Council will hear from residents on the extra tax at a public hearing Monday night.

 
The City Council has postponed approving a plan to issue extra tax bills, but that doesn't mean Woonsocket residents have dodged a bullet.

At a Wednesday night meeting in City Hall, councilors voted unanimously to table the measure until April 2. The reason for their action: The city charter requires a 10-day waiting period before the City Council can pass such a measure.

They also tabled a motion that would allow the city to borrow money in anticipation of those tax revenues. "If you don't do one, you can't do the other," City Council President John Ward said by way of explanation.

Residents will get another chance to speak out on those issues at a public hearing scheduled for Monday night in the high school auditorium.

Wednesday night's meeting was quieter than other recent sessions, but not because taxpayers are less angry. There were no excited speeches from citizens because the City Council barred public comments. Fire Chief Gary Lataille also stood at door of Harris Hall telling latecomers they could not enter, as the fire safety code limits capacity to 147 people.

Some of those who were turned away milled about at the doorway of City Hall, exhanging remarks that denigrated Woonsocket's elected officials. "Taxes, taxes, and more taxes," one man was heard to gripe. "And this is how they treat us. They're hiding something, or hiding from us."

Among those who got into the room: Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Rosemary Booth Gallogly, director of the state Department of Revenue.

Chafee told the crowd his budget package for the upcoming fiscal year will include changes in the formula for distributing state aid to cities and towns and local school districts. If the General Assembly backs the plan, Woonsocket and other cities he called "distressed communities" will recieve more funding from the state.

Chafee also touted his proposal to hike Rhode Island's restaurant tax by 2 percent, a measure he says will raise money for local schools and spare homeowners from rising property tax bills.

"No one likes a new tax," Chafee said. "But you get to choose whether or not you go out to eat. Call your legislator and say, please support Gov. Chafee's budget package. It will mean structural changes. It will give more money to distressed communities."

Directly behind the governor sat several city residents holding angry signs, with messages reading "No more taxes," "We're mad as hell," and "Why do we have a school committee?"

For the most part, Chafee let Gallogly do the talking. She explained several options available to help the city get through its fiscal crisis.

One option would be appointment of a fiscal overseer who would review management of the city's finances and make recommendations. The overseer would not have the authority to make spending cuts or issue tax bills. The overseer would likely be a state trooper with a law degree and budget experience.

The next step would be setting up a budget commission to handle all financial matters. It would include the mayor, the City Council president, and three people appointed by the governor. They would have authority over all hiring and expenditures, and could order program cuts, layoffs and tax hikes.

Beyond that, the city could declare bankruptcy and turn over financial management to a court-appointed receiver, a single person who would handle all financial decisions. Under bankruptcy, the receiver could negotiate a plan to settle the city's debts with partial payments.

According to Gallogly, a receiver could pay off the city's $10 million budget shortfall by issuing a supplemental tax bill that would cover the full amount. The supplemental tax now being discussed would only cover a portion of that. The receiver could also put an end to the city's homestead exemption, which allows homeowners to apply for a reduction in their property tax bills.

"Once the plan is approved in court, it's done," she said. "The reciever would only have to answer to the federal bankruptcy judge."

That news prompted City Council member Robert Moreau to offer a warning. "People are calling me to say 'don't raise taxes, just go bankrupt," he said, directing his remarks toward television cameras. "We have to understand what could happen. If we have control, we can try to make this as painless as possible. If someone else comes in, they could really raise taxes."

"Why send in a receiver to take care of the whole city, when only a portion — the School Department — is in trouble?" City Council member Roger Jalette asked the revenue director.

"We have to be very careful to be fair to all creditors," Gallogly replied. "If you're in a bankruptcy situation, you have to be careful that any proposal you make is fair and equitable."

City Council members also blasted Chafee's predecessor, former Gov. Donald Carcieri, for cutting state aid to the city and the city's schools.

"This has caused a monsoon, something we can't control," Moreau said.

"They said to us, you're a poor community, so we're going to screw you," Ward added. "It's just not right. 

"I chose to stay here in the city of Woonsocket," added City Council member Albert Brien. "But if I'd moved to Smithfield or Lincoln or Tiverton, I wouldn't be confronted with this problem. I think it's grossly unfair, and unconstitutional."

Tabling the supplemental tax bill won't stop paychecks to city and school employees in the weeks ahead, according to City Finance Director Thomas Bruce. Money for this week's payroll is already in the bank, and the state plans to speed up aid payments to Woonsocket to cover the payroll for April 6.

After that, however, the situation is up in the air. "April 20 could be very difficult," Bruce said.

One solution now being considered: a 10-percent paycut for all employees, which could save $1.8 million in April, May and June.

"That will be enough to get us to July," Bruce said. "And in July there will be a new round of funding at the state and local level. School Department operations will have to limp until then."

The Chorus March 22, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Hey Chafee and the free-spending liberal lemmings in the GA - CUT SPENDING! NO MORE TAXES! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!! Unfortunately, the voters are getting what they deserve...too many years of sending the same re-treads back to the GA just because they have a (D) after their names. Time to pay up.
Baywatch March 22, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Where is Chafee going to get the money for Woonsocket's schools? By taking it away from other communities?!? That doesn't seem like a great idea either. He is just shifting the distress around...
Smart one March 22, 2012 at 03:59 PM
They never intended to vote on this last night. Has to be done at a regular meeting of the council. http://valleybreeze.com/2012/03/21/nsbw/double-billing-council-hikes-sewer-rates-readies-for-supplemental-tax
Dude March 22, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Now all the Restaurants will relocate over the border in Mass, and there goes that tax money, Chafee your Messing up RI just like Bruce Sundlun.
Govstench March 23, 2012 at 10:33 AM
"Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul" has been the way of business in RI. Why change now? Oh, there is nothing left to borrow. They have never heard of the word CUT. Watch the heads roll in November!
Growing more concerned by the day! March 23, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Woonsocket credit rating is already Junk bond status. Bankruptcy is not the worst option; it would take all financial decisions out of the hands of the politicians and the unions and put the city on a path to solvency. The next election will give the people the option to clean house and elect conservative minded, responsible individuals who really care about the city's future more tham their own gaurenteed pension benefits. Only the Politicians and Union leaders will tell you bankruptcy is not good. The people of Central Falls are better off today than they were before receivership.
Frankie March 23, 2012 at 12:39 PM
What about the lowering of property values? What about the minimal services available to residents? There are other things that come into play when a city claims bankruptcy.
DonQ March 23, 2012 at 01:31 PM
The taxpayers can't afford anymore. We need to put an end to this reckless spending now. 1) Stop funding education for illegal immigrants. 2) Stop free medical care for illegal immigrants. 3). Sop the welfare benefits for illegal immigrants. The illegals themselves admit that they flock to Rhode Island because RI provides the best "benefits". Enough already. Let's drive the illegals out by stopping the free handouts. Let's start taking care of legitimate citizens. That will stop the bleeding of taxpayers and help get our economy back on track.
The Chorus March 23, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Ron - the liberal lemmings in the GA don't have the guts to do any of that...they are waiting for Obama to give the illegal aliens amnesty so they can become loyal voters for the cause.
Novan for Life March 23, 2012 at 03:39 PM
what does that mean?It's proably voters like you that put us in this mess so don't go blaming liberals when conservatives are just as much to blame here.
Novan for Life March 23, 2012 at 03:40 PM
No there not that city is more messed up now than before
Growing more concerned by the day! March 24, 2012 at 10:17 AM
It means liberals control most of the municipalities and the state legislature and look at the condition we're in! The contry has been controlled by liberals for the last 3 years and we're stuck in ditch. It's time to take control of spending and eliminate programs that are not sustainable or provide services to broad constituancies who shold not be entitled to a free ride. There are too many people in the safety net and it's collapsing for the ones who really need it.
Still Hope March 24, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Stop trying to make this a conservative/liberal debate. The city is trying to cut basic programs, supplies and wages when the state is sitting on a pile of cash. Is the state holding onto a rainy day fund? Cuz Tropical storm Woonsocket is right here. Time to pay out. The town where I work has a school budget larger than Woon with half the student population. Their graduation rate is in the upper 90s. Whereas, 40% of Woonsocket students do not make it to graduation. You can not make cuts to an already failing program. You tell the mayor to put out his hand and beg the state to open its wallet. Chafee criticized Carcieri for cutting the funding to Woonsocket. Great! Now undo this misdeed and take reclaim the glory.
Novan for Life March 24, 2012 at 05:21 PM
i've said the same thing but i've been called every name under the sun
Novan for Life March 24, 2012 at 05:24 PM
well concerned conservative how do explain the eight year nightmare that was George W Bush huh when he single handedly wiped out the country's largest surplus in four years.It's the conservatives that are ruining this country and gov carcieri ruined the state of rhode island by him self
Growing more concerned by the day! March 25, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Quick looking backwards to find blame...look ahead for solutions. Bankruptcy will take the guess work out of politicians hands and give someone who knows how to prioritize spending with the revenue they have to lift this city out of the ditch.
Jerry March 26, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I thought Robert said he was done writing on the patch....hmmmm, must be his twin.
Lavergne March 26, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Until our reps/legislators get off their duff and start doing their jobs, nothing will change. They are too busy owing their "brother" favors. They are busy getting stopped for DUI, embezzlement, owning bars in Providence and so on.. The only decision they ever made in years was pension reform because they were backed in a corner. Well, where is welfare reform? Our local rep says it's being discussed. Being discussed where...in the elevators..at Twin river...at a fancy restaurant. Does anybody else notice they never get agressive on the real, important issues facing our City. Do we really need 2.3 million dollars to fix "social ocean"..really..is that our focus? Is it our focus that we need directions from the highway to the Stadium theatre....really? How about changing the law so that our/other schools are autonomous from the municipality side of government, so that they are finally responsible for their actions. How about actually doing something about welfare reform/abuse. How about checking on all illegals in this city and state, and so on and so on. And, how about politicians acting like norman, concerned citizens, that really listen to people...listen to their suggestions..instead of saying....hmmmm, what's in it for me...but no....let's just keep voting the same people in because of their name. How about no more "fancy bribery meals" for the seniors. How about just being honest for a change and stop promising when you KNOW YOU CAN'T DELIVER!!!
Lori March 26, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Still Hope, I agree with you 100%. Well said.
Novan for Life March 26, 2012 at 05:23 PM
wow jerry thanks for the welcome don't take everything you read at face value
DMA April 02, 2012 at 07:32 PM
The Ward Tax Will Destroy the City!!!!
Cadeyrn April 03, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Drunk on taxes ... and a hangover that never ends.
Govstench April 30, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Because things are so bad, I doubt the council will pass this tax authorization. Imagine no one paying it! What happens next? Tax sale? Yeah, right. Property values would drop like a stone if that forced that and they know it.

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